First Congregational Church
October 14, 2018
21st Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 10:17-31 & Hebrews 4:12-16
“The Real Struggle”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I once saw a quote attributed to Anthony Burgess, that said, “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Snore, and you sleep alone.” I saw a picture of someone taking a picture of a sign attributed to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, J. Murrey Adkins Library that said, “Please do not stand, sit, climb or Sharpie on sleeping students.” At the bottom of that sign, it said, A new way to think. Atkins Library. Kind of a weird saying, but there you have it. And of all the gazillions of those signs and quotes, I think one of the absolute best is the one that said, “Without Sleep, we become tall two year olds.”
Actually, it was a little sign by Brooke Hampton that resonated with what I’ve been hearing from a large number of folks I’ve encountered this week. It said, “No, we don’t need more sleep. It’s our souls that are tired, not our bodies. We need nature. We need magic. We need adventure. We need freedom. We need truth. We need stillness. We don’t need more sleep, we need to wake up and live.”
I don’t know about anyone else, but part of me retaliates against that saying, like a 7th grader who doesn’t want to do their homework. “Great. More to do.” Siri, put relaxing on the to-do list. But the other part of me gets that it’s not about sleep, but about being in alignment with life - which of course, is alignment with God.
Mark 10:17-31, The Rich and the Kingdom of God
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Jesus the Great High Priest
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Thank you, Hugh and Bob. I had to chuckle after reading the first two commentaries on this morning’s passage from Mark. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, from workingpreacher.org said “The rich young man didn’t actually keep the law, so that business about giving up his possessions was just a way of calling his bluff. Nobody can actually keep the law, hence nobody can give up everything, either; it’s just a rhetorical device to call our bluff, and once we grasp that, we’re off the hook.”
Leonard Vander Zee from calvinseminary.edu said “Jesus says “Give it all away, everything.” Contemporary Jewish belief had taught them that riches were a sign of God’s blessing, so Jesus was asking the young man to let go of God’s blessing.
Who would be crazy enough to do that - especially understanding the deep meaning of blessings after a brief sojourn through and review of the book of “Rethinking Forgiveness” by Michael O’Shields this past Thursday? (For those who haven’t had an opportunity to check out this book, do. It could well do some healing of heart you didn’t expect.)
The question is, does Jesus demand this of everyone - giving away everything we have? Some commentators make the point that Jesus is talking to this one man. It says Jesus looked at him and loved him and then says exactly what this man needs to hear.”
So it seems that our first passage was either a vague lesson or a poignant statement. When you stand back a little, and look at what was written in this part of Mark, I think you can find room for both interpretations. So that’s why the passage from Hebrews became an important part of today’s readings. Not that the people who pick lectionary passages have such great insight or superhero powers to divine which passages should go together. But sometimes….
Some of you may remember the movie City Slickers, in which Mitch, played by Billy Crystal, is experiencing a sort of mid-life crises as work and marriage are falling apart. Mitch is roped into joining two friends on a cattle drive in the southwest, lead by the their guide, Curly, played by Jack Palance.
Near the end of the movie, having gone to the edge of death, the old Cowhand Curly said to Mitch: Do you know what the secret of life is? [holds up one finger] This.
Billy Crystal says, Your finger? Jack Palance says, “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean squat. Of course, Billy Crystal says, “That’s great but, what is the "one thing?” Jack Palance smiles, “That’s what you’ve got to figure out.”
While the answer to the question of that “one thing” can change from time to time, I think that an answer lies in the last half of the passage from Hebrews. In fact, it may well be the last sentence from our Hebrews passage. Knowing that we have a high priest - Jesus - who is able to understand our every weakness and temptation and burden and did not let those things overtake him, let us approach God and God’s grace for the mercy and grace to help us when we need it.
I surely seems like there are a lot of folks who are not only tired these days, but tired of being tired. Maybe it’s been politics, maybe it’s been the weather and the atrocities of hurricanes and flooding and fires, maybe it’s been that fall has been so long in coming, and now that it’s definitely here, we are wanting - needing to hibernate from the drawn-out summer. Maybe it’s health issues or relationship issues with family or friends or job. I don’t know how to fix the problems, but I do know that God really does care about the things that bug us, annoy us and even get under our skin.
Even if we can’t do anything to help the people whose lives have been effected in negative ways this last week, even if we feel like we can’t change the world through our gift of money or donation, even if we can’t seem to help ourselves, we can pray.
If we don’t know what to pray, we can pray that. If you are too tired to pray, God knows that, and not only cares about your situation, but loves you despite it. When the young, rich man said that he had kept all the commandments, did you catch what happened after that? Jesus looked at him and loved him.
Despite how we understand or misunderstand, our energy or fatigue, whether we “get” what God desires for us - that one thing, God continually - not just when God feels like it, not based on what we do or don’t do, God looks at us and loves us - looks at you and loves you.
Even so, maybe God is asking you to let go of some “stuff” that is holding you back. And maybe we may take a little self inventory of how we feel about people that look like they “have it all,” because sometimes that visual is far more incorrect than we realize.
Let us, in these last moments of our worship together, approach God’s throne of grace with confidence as we pray.
Holy, Loving God, we are grateful that you see through our faults and warts and all, to our hearts. We are grateful for the abundances you give us, so that we can help those around us - in whatever ways that help may arrive. Thank you for being an approachable God, that we need not fear you or feel that we are not worthy of coming into your presence. Help us, Lord, in the coming week, to look for ways of giving of ourselves, regardless of how we might feel or think. Help each of us to let go of what is keeping us from drawing closer to you, that we might all be rich people in you. For all your love and grace and mercy and blessings, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.